Match statistics: Italy 1-1 England (3-2 pens.)
Again, it ended in tears for England. It was a familiar story of heartbreak for the Three Lions at Wembley after so much renewed hope, optimism, and belief.
They have gone one further this time, reaching the final after reaching the semi-finals in the 2018 World Cup.
However, the terrible punch of a penalty shootout loss means that those 55 years of agony will have to be stretched before they are finally over.
For a generation of England fans, however, this is a different type of disappointment. Gareth Southgate’s youthful, dynamic side had given the nation and their supporters cause to be optimistic once more, but it was the young stars who were in tears at full time.
Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, and Bukayo Saka, all 19 years old, all missed from the spot and could only watch as Italy celebrated a well-deserved title with their fans in the stands.
Before the game, everyone on Wembley Way had a distinct story to tell. Some who were present in 1996 when Southgate missed a penalty against Germany; those who witnessed Wayne Rooney’s red card against Portugal in 2006; others who experienced the setback against Iceland in 2016, and yet more who recall the heartbreak in Russia in 2018.
And now there are those who will be able to add Euro 2020 to that list.
The past’s near misses and heartbreaks led to a joyful, if occasionally tense, pre-match mood in London. Nobody could believe what they were seeing.
The historical significance of the event, as well as the desire for a golden ticket, resulted in a rush of spectators pushing through the barricades at Wembley without a ticket. Unfortunately, a small minority will always ruin everything for the others.
On the pitch, England had made a strong start, scoring with less than two minutes on the clock after Luke Shaw converted a wonderful Kieron Trippier cross at the far post. It couldn’t have come at a better time for Manchester United’s left-back to net his first international goal.
However, as Italy gained a foothold in the game, winning the midfield battle with Marco Verratti and Jorginho at the helm, Southgate’s side began to show signs of nervousness. After all, it was Italy vs. England in their first European Championship final, as 10-time major event finalists.
The rowdy atmosphere subsided as the Azzurri turned up the heat in the second half and Southgate’s side sat back to soak up the pressure. The fans were well aware that there was far too much at stake.
Declan Rice was the only player who stood out in an attempt to propel England forward, but by the 70th minute, the West Ham midfielder had run out of steam.
Meanwhile, Raheem Sterling was quiet on Sunday night but has undoubtedly been England’s best performer throughout the tournament. Jordan Pickford, who saved two penalties in the shootout, may also be eligible for the award.
In the second half, he made a superb stop to deny Federico Chiesa, and he was unlucky not to preserve what looked like an unavoidable equaliser when Leonardo Bonucci bundled in from close range after a corner. It was inevitable.
As a result, Southgate’s substitution strategy will be scrutinized. England had been under pressure for quite some time before that equalizer, and with so much exciting attacking skill on the bench, he could have changed formation much sooner than he did.
But it wasn’t just about England in this case. Italy has been the tournament’s standout team, extending their undefeated streak to 34 games after being changed by Roberto Mancini over the last three years.
Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini were at their resolute best, while Gianluigi Donnarumma, the tournament’s unexpected Player of the Tournament, was a rock throughout the competition.
In the attacking third, Chiesa has been outstanding in the knockout stages, while Lorenzo Insigne is always a threat, especially with the midfield tugging the strings behind him.
But it was penalty heartbreak for England and Southgate once more.
It was the start of something extraordinary for this group, and while they had to watch as Italy raised the title at their home stadium, they may use that disappointment to motivate them to even greater heights at the 2022 World Cup, which will be held in only 18 months.
Football, on the other hand, will not be returning in 2021. But it could not be long before that does.